The effects of literacy and socio-cultural changes on cognitive strategies

This research project was designed to explore the effects of literacy and socio-cultural changes on the cognitive strategies of different members of the Lao Hmong community living in Long Beach, California. The motivating factor for undertaking such a study was a desire to understand the cognitive strategies employed by preliterate Hmong in order to develop more effective second language literacy materials and methods. A. R. Luria's sociohistorical approach to understanding the cognitive development of the peoples of Uzbekistan, and his experiments with these people who were undergoing major socioeconomic changes as a result of the Russian Revolution, formed a basis for the methodology of my fieldwork with the Hmong. Using Luria's research as my guide, I replicated several of his experiments dealing with perception and classification, and applied them to two main groups of subjects. The first group was comprised of Hmong who were preliterate or had attained very low levels of literacy skills in English, and who had limited contacts with western culture. Group 2 consisted of Hmong men and women literate in both Hmong and English, and engaged in full contact with western society. The findings suggest that subjects in the first group employed primarily a concrete, object-oriented and situational strategy when naming and classifying shapes and objects, while the subjects in Group 2 solved the same problems by utilizing a predominately "geometric" or "abstract" approach. In conclusion, it is suggested that socio-cultural changes and literacy may effect a change in cognitive strategies.